Barley 24 hours into the Alaska Ultra Sport race and a lot is/has happened, I can guarantee that. It is, has been snowing lots where the racers are currently at on the trail, I can only imagine for the bikers that they have assumed the position. Off to the side of the bike, head down, trying to keep the snow from poking there eyes, hands on the bars and pushing. This has to be an accepted discipline as a rider to not only help with your mental status but there is a technique to it and to get those muscles familiar with pushing before hand will only help with your experience.
Even in the best of years you will do some sort of pushing. It may be on and off the bike trying to get through drifts, or it may be snow that is border line riding and you are on and off, or it may be of the few inches to waist deep type. The real deep pushing is very taxing as you have to haul, pick-up, and push the front end of your bike through, basically trenching out a path. This type of work also increases sweating, so there is a good chance you will be soaking wet from the inside out and if it is snowing you are also getting wet from the outside in. This makes moisture management pretty tough. Sounds like fun, eh.
I can remember pushing with a group of bout 7 down Rainy Pass in waist deep snow at a half mile an hour. Rotating the front guy like a pace line, we did this for some 17 hours to get about 7 miles. I can also remember on the way to Nome one year pushing every single day, all day, for 6 days straight telling ourselves it was going to get better tomorrow, it never did.
A few things on pushing a bike:
Mental – I am not saying you must like it but you better accept it and not fight it or bitch and complain, you will not make it otherwise. Pushing with another person will help with your attitude and you can share the work. I prefer fun folks, folks that like to talk a lot, you know the chatty Cathy type (Boutet is a great person for this). This is going to break folks early this year, pushing out of the gate is no easy thing to accept. If you get the word “quit” in your head early you are going to have an even harder time. For me I do the best I can to not accept negative words in my vocabulary, I do not accept them, period! As a side note if one is thinking about quiting I will say it is much cheaper and easier to bail now then it is as you get deeper into the bush. One must think clearly and be reasonable with themselves. Use others to turn your negative to a positive
Physical – It is very, very taxing pushing a bike for hours on end and it is not uncommon to push for days on end. A slow push is a half mile an hour, a fast push could be 3-4 miles an hour. Pushing takes a fair bit of upper body strength, arms and core, which most cyclist lack. It can be brutal on your feet too, think blisters.
Suggestions – Let somebody a bit more anxious break the trail or team up and share the work. If you know your going to be pushing for an extended period of time you might take the peddle off your bike the side you push on. Stay consistent, don’t keep stopping every 10 minutes to rest, keep a pace and maintain it. There is nothing wrong with waiting, a day or even 2. Patience is key in these situations. Remember the time and money invested…
Did I mention how slow it can be and taxing? Think calories and water, you are now burning and drinking more. The section you thought was going to take 24 hours now is going to take 48. Hope you brought enough calories, I have often fell short on calories when leaving a checkpoint thinking I was going to ride the whole way and 10 miles out am pushing. Trail conditions change often and frequently. The guys in front have different trail and weather then the guys in back.
Another thought when it is snowing like is is and you are pushing on the river and through the swamps. You now can not read what is underneath, I am talking about open water and overflow. This is probably one of the biggest fears and potential problems. Do you have a waterproof shoe system? Do you have a plan for when you do get wet feet? This does happen and it is probably the number 1 thing to frostbit feet.
As a competitive racer times like this can get strategic too, but it will take some discipline. It is very possible and has happened where the front folks push there way up trail and you slept in and are now some 12-24 hours back but left the checkpoint riding. You have now gained lots of sleep, did no pushing, and are riding the same trail that the others have pushed on getting no sleep and exhausting themselves. I won the Ultra Sport in 08′ with a fair amount of sleep.
While I sit here and think of these guys I will say it does not sound like a great time but when they get through it they will not forget it and to me it is better then work. It’s all part of the experience…